Defining deviance down vs. defining deviance up
Dog owning miscreants, photo by District Curmudgeon.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an essay, now very famous, called Defining Deviance Down, which made the point that as various types of deviance became more widespread, the definition of deviance in terms of various infractions becomes looser, because communities have limited resources in terms of its ability to "sanction" offenders, either through the maintenance of social codes of order through norms, socialization, and public opprobrium, or through what I call the exercise of the "coercive power" of the state.
In the UK, under the previous Labour Government, the state fought back against deviance through the "anti-social behavior orders" and various initiatives focused on ridding communities of people who were proven to be persistent, habitual nuisances and offenders, out of the recognition that negative behaviors of some people can lead to a significant reduction in the quality of life for other residents in a community. The current government is scrapping ASBOs for more traditional problem-oriented policing approaches. See "Asbos to be scrapped following review" from the Daily Telegraph.
In the U.S. we soldier on.
Somehow I missed the entry in District Curmudgeon about a couple who let their dog s*** in a treebox without cleaning it up.
Apparently I missed the thread about it in Greater Greater Washington, where someone was spiritedly defending the miscreants, and accusing the Curmudgeon of stalking.
Fred Siegel's The Future Once Happened Here is a book from the late 1990s about the decline of cities, and its major thrust is the point of how defining deviance down supported a significant decline in social order and the quality of life in cities, and that until certain mayors in certain cities took a stand against bad behavior in the public sphere, ranging from quality of life offenses like littering to transit turnstile jumping and crime, in an application of the "Fixing Broken Windows" ideas of Kelling and Wilson (1982 article from The Atlantic. (Also see the article "Making Neighborhoods Safe" from 1989.)
In 2005, I wrote about the cause celebre in Korea, when a woman let her dog s*** on the subway and didn't pick it up. People took photos and through the power of social media, social opprobrium was laid thick on the woman and she ended up quitting her job. See the 2005 Post column titled "Subway Fracas Escalates Into Test Of the Internet's Power to Shame."
At the time, I speculated that in the U.S., something like this is unlikely, happen, because we don't have much of a culture of responsibility. Plus, the digital divide would make it hard to shame people who aren't online.
When people demand better won't we get it?
While about "art," I think today's Frazz comic strip is relevant to this discussion. It's really tomorrow's Frazz, because the paper doesn't always print them in order, so I can't insert the image here.
In the 3rd frame of the 4 panel strip, Frazz tells Coach Hacker that "you don't adjust art down to your expectations."
People who don't behave and act properly don't need other people to defend them, we as society need people to admonish them, so that they will do better the next time.
By demanding the best of ourselves and others, we can have a functioning society.
(Also see the "communitarian" ideas by Amitai Etzioni.)